We began to plan for their summer trip to Alabama even before the protests began at Maidan, in Kyiv, in November. 12 orphaned children. A peaceful country. An easy road. Then I stood at Maidan in December, bringing my own 3 new Ukrainian children home. Something good was happening. But there was thunder in the distance. In February, a government was overthrown. And then I stood in shock with the rest of the world in March when Russia invaded Crimea.
Immediately, I began communicating with our partners in Lugansk: what if this happens here? How will we get the children out? For 3 months, text after text, email after email, communicating through an intermediary with government officials; talking directly with other humanitarian organizations in Ukraine; calling Embassies and Senators; coming up with ideas that were impractical or too expensive. Being told there was nothing we could do. Being asked to do the impossible. Praying. Agonizing. Then in late May, hearing from the kids we planned to host that they were hiding in the basement of the orphanage; that they heard explosions; that they were scared they would never be able to travel to Alabama. I am a doer by nature. I fretted because time and time again, I came up with the conclusion: there is nothing I can do.
All I wanted was to get the children to safety. There are 517 children in the state run orphanages in the Lugansk oblast. This was not about 12 children but 517. We made the decision that if we had to make the choice, the money we had raised for hosting would go to evacuating the children. We tentatively made hosting plans even while being warned that all roads leading from the town where our children resided were closed. No one could get in. And no one could get out.
On June 2nd, there was a bombing in Lugansk city; at least 5 people were killed. Things were getting worse. Then on June 3rd, I got this message: we are in contact with the Ukrainian army and the Lugansk People’s Republic as well as the head of the train station; all orphans in the region will be evacuated to Odessa. “When?” I asked. “Not sure”, was the reply. This was a massive undertaking.
On June 4th we talked to Luda, one of our hosted kids. She told us that the director was saying that only kids going to Odessa would be leaving the next day; kids going to America would have to wait. What?! I called Anton, our partner in Ukraine; he agreed we had to get our 12 kids out as well; this may be their only chance. The morning of June 5th was chaotic; our 12 kids were not prepared to leave but were now being told to get on the bus. There were now too many kids for the bus, according to the rules. So we broke a few rules and our 12 kids joined the other 118 orphans escaping Severodonetsk. The police escorted the bus the hour and half drive to Lugansk, through checkpoints, past armed men. And the LORD our God went before them; mighty in power; with a gentle and fatherly love for the orphan.
Meanwhile, a train was on its way from Odessa to Lugansk to take the children to safety. Several news sources reported that the train was detained at some point by militants, insisting it return to Odessa. I do not know the details; but what I do know is that eventually those 118 children plus another 384 orphans got on that train and made it safely to Odessa and our 12 got on a train leading them to Kyiv.
Right now they are staying at a Christian camp out side of Kyiv run by Andrew Kelly and Jeremiah’s Hope. Their visa appointment is tomorrow, June 10th; they are scheduled to fly to Alabama on June 16th. I am overwhelmed by what happened. When I could do nothing, my God did it all. My new Ukrainian daughter, still struggling with faith, said “I began to believe more in God yesterday when the children got out of Lugansk.” God was on display for all to see.
Yesterday at the Church at Brook Hills, the sermon was on Psalm 91. What perfect timing:
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
As our hosting date nears, and I plan for our nightly sabrinya (Russian for "gathering" and when we have our Bible study), please pray that these children will see that God alone is their Rescuer and that He offers the ultimate rescue through Jesus Christ. I, personally, am once again humbled by that Truth.